Michigan job seekers speak to WSWS

By Naomi Spencer
20 November 2009

Several hundred Detroit area residents attended a jobs fair Wednesday at a University of Phoenix location in nearby Livonia, Michigan. The fair is the latest of several similar events held in the area, which have drawn unemployed residents seeking any kind of work.

Another job fair in Livonia on November 4 drew hundreds of out-of-work residents, while thousands turned out November 13 to submit applications for 300 low-wage jobs being offered at a fair in Detroit.

The region’s economy, particularly its manufacturing sector, has collapsed, resulting in the loss of hundreds of thousands of jobs. In Detroit, official unemployment now hovers near 29 percent, and a third of the population lives below the poverty line.

Cities and suburbs surrounding Detroit are confronting similarly dire circumstances. Livonia and Warren, another Detroit-area city, are crippled by unemployment rates of 18 percent. Together with the city of Detroit, Livonia and Warren saw an 8.4 percent rise in the jobless rate over the past year—the largest jump of any metropolitan area in the US. Job seekers outnumber jobs in the area by a ratio of 7 to 1.

Desiree Bourgeois, an organizer of the Livonia event, which was sponsored by the /Metro Times/ newspaper, told WSWS reporters that 25 companies were on hand, offering some 300 jobs. “We wanted to try to bring people actual jobs with this fair,” she said. “In other jobs fairs we’ve organized, what we had was a lot of schools, training centers, trade schools set up tables, and few jobs were offered.” She indicated that many of the jobs being offered this time were temporary, part-time, and work-from-home.

Bourgeois said 200 people looking for work had preregistered for the event to speak to company representatives, and 400 to 500 more applicants were expected to show up.

Inside the University of Phoenix Learning Center suite, tables were arranged with company displays and various free pens, notepads, and other company-monogrammed items. The most prominent table, set up outside the main suite entry, was that of the US Army.

Army table at the Livonia, Michigan jobs fair

Representatives at several booths told WSWS reporters that they were only accepting applications, not interviewing, and that only a handful of seasonal positions were available.

Lindsay and Rachel Rosen

Lindsay and Rachel Rosen, sisters who attended the jobs fair, told the WSWS they were disappointed in the types of jobs offered. “I came looking for a full-time position,” Lindsay Rosen said. “There were a lot of ‘sales opportunities,’ “ she said, “but I’m looking for a job in social work. I’m going to school right now. I left my old job because there wasn’t very much there in terms of advancement.”

Rachel added, “It gives you a false sense of hope, to fill out applications for companies that only have a few positions. They don’t tell you how many openings they have when you go up to the table.”

Julie Gerzich

Julie Gerzich told WSWS reporters, “I’ve been unemployed since January. It’s hard, because everyone is looking for the same jobs. Without work, I can’t move up, can’t move out. Most of the jobs here are part-time. It’s not enough.” Noting that she came to the fair looking for office work, she commented, “Most of the employers I spoke to were only offering one position, or they were in real estate.”

Julie told the WSWS that she had been working as a secretary at a plumbing company, but like many businesses, the company issued pink slips to multiple employees when the economic crisis hit. “They laid off four the day I was let go. I’ve been looking for work constantly since then. I collect unemployment until December—I don’t know what I’ll do if that runs out, because I have four prescriptions I need to pay for.”

“Unemployment is really frustrating,” Julie said. “Your job is searching for a job. It’s a bummer when you do it for months; it’s depressing to sit at home day after day. My mom said I may have to leave the state to find work. There are a lot of people who are doing that. But everything I know is here, and I don’t want to move away. I know there are a lot of problems in Michigan—there’s the potholes, you know, and everything else!—but it’s my Michigan. I just need a job.”

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